RogerBW's Blog

Burglars Can't Be Choosers, Lawrence Block 03 July 2014

First in Block's slightly less-well-known series. Bernard Rhodenbarr is a burglar, and a good one. It's bad enough when the cops walk into the apartment where he's doing his latest job. But then one of them discovers a recently-dead body nearby.

I confess, I'd expected a bit more of a change of style. Unlike Block's best-known protagonist, the ex-cop, ex-alcoholic, private eye Matthew Scudder, Rhodenbarr isn't a tough guy; in fact there's no violence in the reader's view in this story. But he acts in much the same way as Scudder, casually accepting the corruption that's all around him while fixing the bit of it that he's become mixed up in. Down these mean streets, etc.; indeed, this sort of sentimental thuggery is very much in the Raymond Chandler tradition. But this is the 1970s, so Rhodenbarr is also irresistible to the opposite sex, getting to bed with both the significant female characters in the book. (Not that they have much agency of their own, but then nor does anyone except for the protagonist.)

The plot's not a bad one, though the idea that it might all be a setup makes rather more sense than the eventual resolution; there was just a little too much coincidence for my taste. Everybody's a bit bent in their own way, though one of the cops is at least honest enough to stay bought once he's been given a large enough bribe. There's a certain prurience to the view of other people's sins which doesn't sit entirely well with me, for all that Rhodenbarr seems as though he wouldn't particularly mind its being pointed at him.

Enjoyable in its way, but you'll have to read it on its own terms in order to enjoy it; put yourself in the hard-boiled 1970s mindset, and it's good fun. Read it with a modern sensibility and it's execrable trash.

Followed by The Burglar in the Closet.

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